Vanguard (Lagos)

2 December 2012

Nigeria: Time and Transformation at UNILAG

analysis

Philosophers, from antiquity to the present, have attempted to elucidate abstractly the notion of time.However, advancement in the specialised sciences such as physics and mathematics has vastly improved our understanding and measurement of time as an empirical concept.

We shall not in this essay discuss 'time' from the arcane portal of philosophy - although that is an exciting undertaking. We shall, instead, examine very briefly some of the agents of positive transformations that are occurring now, and are likely to continue in the foreseeable future, at the University of Lagos (or Unilag), arguably the most prestigious institution of higher learning in Nigeria.

It must be stated at the outset that, despite the daunting challenges of university education in Nigeria, authorities of Unilag are poised to consolidate its status as the primus inter pares, among Nigerian universities.

This is evident in the series of activities commemorating the 50th anniversary of Great Unilag which commenced early this year. It is not gainsaid that the golden jubilee celebrations provide a wonderful opportunity for stakeholders of the university to take stock of the successes and failures recorded since it was founded in 1962, and make strategic projections into the future for bigger accomplishments.

In the life of a human being, 50years mean a lot; but for a tertiary institution like Unilag established to celebrate the best in The True, The Good, and The Beautiful, half a century is a window into the horizon of undetermined possibilities. Two very important positions of responsibility for the healthy growth of Unilag should be highlighted at this point.

The first one is the Vice-Chancellorship, presently occupied by Rahamon Adisa Bello, a Professor of Chemical Engineering. The untimely death of much-beloved former Vice-Chancellor, Professor Adetokumbo B. Sofoluwe, created a temporary leadership vacuum.

But after due selection process, the Governing Council of Great Unilag moved expeditiously to fill it by appointing Prof. Bello the eleventh Vice-Chancellor of the university. Prof. Bello is a gentle, calm, serious-minded and diligent scholar who has cognate administrative experience both within and outside the university system, having served as HOD, Chemical Engineering, member of the Governing Council of some institutions of higher learning, Commissioner for Special Duties, and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Management Services).

The new Vice-Chancellor is already showing signs that he is a focused team-player who is determined to take Unilag to the next level. For example, he has already met with staff unions in the university, as well as with student-leaders drawn from all faculties and College of Medicine to map out strategies for effective collective action geared towards repositioning Unilag. Moreover, he recognises that research is the lifeblood of a world-class university. Therefore, very soon he will establish a Unit to coordinate and promote research activities.

The Unit, when established, will orchestrate the inflow of research funds into the University of Lagos and ensure that results generated from research activities are used for the betterment of humanity. Cognisant of the need to improve all aspects of academic life at Unilag, Prof. Bello is already working hard to overhaul learning and teaching infrastructure in the university.

Also, he intends, within six months, to make Unilag ICT compliant in the storage and retrieval of examination results, which will eliminate delays in processing requests for transcript. By his speech and body language, the new Unilag helmsman is determined to address, in a result-oriented manner, the welfare needs of both staff and students.

In that regard, his administration will actively encourage provision of additional accommodation for staff and students through the build, operate and transfer (BOT) mechanism. Aside from these laudable programmes, Prof. Bello is committed to bringing back responsible student unionism in the university, because he knows that a vibrant and focused student union is an incubator of future leaders.

As a matter of fact, Prof. Bello's transformation agenda for Great Unilag cannot be completely captured in one article. Suffice it to say, however, that there are encouraging signs from him that things will get better soon for members of the university community.

I know that as a human being, Prof. Bello will make some mistakes as he moves quickly to translate his lofty ideas for moving the university forward, into reality. Still, I strongly believe that he has the cognitive, affective and spiritual attributes to be one of the great Vice-Chancellors to have administered Unilag. I advise him to always insist on merit, e

xcellence and what best serves the interest of the university in all his decisions and undertakings.

Now, since no single individual, no matter how intelligent and honest can lead in isolation, I urge all members of the university community to support our new VC as he grapples with the challenges of his office. I sincerely wish him a very successful tenure.

The second office critical to the prestige and progress of Unilag is that of Dean, Postgraduate School. That position is presently occupied by Prof. Lucian Obinna Chukwu, who has been working tirelessly to positively transform all aspects of postgraduate education in the university.

One of the flagship items in Prof. Chukwu's loaded agenda is the proposed ultra-modern PG building, which will be called 'The Lighthouse.' I have seen the 3D model of that building; it is an architectural beauty destined to be the envy of other universities when completed.

Prof. Chukwu has been promoting postgraduate programmes in critical sectors of our national life. Also, he has removed most of the bottlenecks associated with admissions, registration by students, and release of results - in these areas the PG School has achieved considerable success in the application of ICT.

The current PG building and its immediate surroundings have been upgraded and beautified, while all statutory organs critical to the smooth functioning of postgraduate programmes have been strengthened to protect them from undue interference and compromise in actualising their mandates.

Prof. Chukwu has consistently maintained zero tolerance for corruption: inspite of resistance by certain entrenched interests, he is steadily entrenching the culture of due process and quality assurance in running the PG school.

Under his watch, there is a lot of improvement both in streamlining doctorate degree (and other PG) programmes and in staff-student relationship. There is no doubt that the 'Dean of Deans' and his team are transforming the PG School into a world class centre for graduate education.

That said, because of the lamentable drop in the quality of doctoral theses in universities throughout the country, Prof. Chukwu should "think out of the box" and put in place effective strategies for weeding out such poor quality work through the Academic Programmes Committee (APC).

An increasing number of PG lecturers are simply not doing enough to stop the deluge of poorly conceived and badly written doctoral theses. I know that Prof. Chukwu has what it takes to drastically reduce, if not eliminate completely, rampaging mediocrity stemming from shoddy intellectual auditing at the doctoral level. I wish him well!

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